Science fiction offers readers the opportunity for a unique experience of literary tension. Typically, when we refer to tension we're talking about wanting to get to the end, to know what's going to happen. It's the primal force that keeps us reading.
In science fiction, a smart, skilled writer can craft a very different experience of tension. We can find ourselves immersed in a well-crafted completely imagined world as experienced by characters we can identify with and understand because their internal personal logic seems solid and believable even if the circumstances that created that persona are absurd. This collision between the realistic characters and unreal settings creates a tension, a dissonance that can help inspire the unique sense of wonder. Science fiction can take us out of our lives in a manner that mimetic realistic literary fiction cannot.
Robert Repino understands this well, and he uses it to fine effect in 'Mort(e),' which seamlessly melds poignant personal moments with hairy-eyed absurd adventure. This is a novel where your happy housecat is transformed into a six-foot walking wounded warrior. The animals have been uplifted, the alien invasion comes from within, and humans are on the shortlist for extinction. We so deserve it.
If it all sounds like a hodge-podge, it reads — and strikes — lightning. Repino gives us a poignant Armageddon, and a lingering love-story aftermath. Mort(e) (as a pet, named Sebastian), the uplifted housecat, is searching for his lost love, the dog who once lived next door. You read that right, and when you read the novel you'll find that you can shed a tear or two on Mort(e)'s behalf.
But you'll have a grand time in Repino's posthuman earth, where a six-legged Queen teeters on Godhood and the animals swear that they won't fall into the same traps that helped humans hurtle into self-extinction, even as said animals create governments, armies and the things that make us crazy.
Repino brings an artful feel to his prose and his plotting. You won't just buy the absurdity, you'll love it. The adventures and action scenes are amazing. He pulls off set-pieces that shouldn't work but do by virtue of great writing and characters you love and care about.
While there is quite a bit of page-turning plot, and emotional resonance, Repino also manages to pack in a lot of subversive commentary into the action and emotions. He mines the science fiction as thought-experiment tropes with unforced ease. 'Mort(e)' is weird as anything you'll read, fun, emotionally involving and lets your cat survive the end times, but not you. The sound of kibble clattering in the bowl will never be the same.
New to the Agony Column
07-11-15: Commentary : Robert Repino Morphs 'Mort(e)' : Housecat to Harbinger of the Apocalypse